Following the widespread outcry and threat of a lawsuit by Nigerians and the Vehicle Owners Association of Nigeria (VOAN) to challenge the decision by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to compel vehicle owners in the country to pay duties on uncustomised cars, the Customs Service on Monday beat a retreat, denying that its policy was targeted at car owners.
It also said that it never contemplated taking any measure to force compliance, adding that the policy was being “misconstrued, misinterpreted and has been blown out of proportion”.
The Customs Service was forced to backtrack on its policy even as car owners and dealers shunned its zonal offices in Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Bauchi, while the turnout was very low at its Lagos zonal office, where the NCS had directed car owners nationwide to pay their duties during the one-month grace period which came into effect on Monday.
The policy has been condemned by the Senate, which passed a resolution asking the NCS to suspend it, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), civil society groups, and VOAN.
Despite the condemnation, NCS doubled-down on its directive by ordering car owners and dealers to comply, failing which their cars would be impounded. At best, it offered a 60 per cent rebate on cars bought before 2016.
Its refusal to suspend the policy, based on the Senate resolution, drew the wrath of the upper legislative chamber, which summoned the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) to appear in his uniform before the Senate on Wednesday.
However, the acting public relations officer of the NCS, Mr. Joseph Atta, regretted that the policy had been misconstrued, misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.
He also said that the threat by VOAN to take legal action against the Customs Service if it did not reverse the policy was uncalled for.
Attah stressed that at no time was the policy targeted at car owners.
However, this clarification by the Custom Service was conspicuously missing when it offered the 60 per cent rebate last week on cars bought before 2016.
According to Attah, there was nothing special about the policy to generate any kind of unnecessary hysteria from some quarters, adding that members of the Association of Motor Dealers of Nigeria (AMDON) were the ones who approached the NCS seeking to be allowed a period of grace to pay duties on uncustomised cars.
He stated that there was nothing new about the policy, except that motor dealers were asked to use the period to pay for unpaid duties on vehicles.
On compliance with the policy, for which the grace period commenced Monday, Attah asked for a few days to get feedback from the four zonal centres designated as duty collection centres.
The four zonal offices of the NCS are: Zone A Headquarters, No. 1 Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos; Zone B Headquarters, Kabala Doki, Kaduna; Zone C Headquarters, Nigeria Ports Authority, Port Harcourt and Zone D Headquarters, Yelwa Tudu Road, Bauchi State.